- Associated Press - Friday, June 29, 2018

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Wayne Harmon has spent much of his life around water. He launched his boat from the riverbank in Boonville countless times, so the Missouri River is an old friend to him.

But when he stood on the Katy Bridge for the first time years ago, he had a completely new experience of the Big Muddy. He recalled his awareness of the trees behind him, the sound of the water rushing beneath him and the sight of eagles circling overhead.

“As soon as you left the land, your sight, your hearing, your (sense of) smell were all raised to a new level because you’re experiencing something new,” Harmon said.

A gap of less than 1,000 feet prevents everyone from having the experience of crossing the entire bridge. Right now, it’s open to walk on but doesn’t go even halfway across the river.

Hikers and cyclists traveling the 225-mile long Katy Trail are routed over the Boonslick Bridge, which is a vehicular bridge on U.S. Route 40. They travel on a walkway that was built because of fundraising by citizens, members of the Katy Bridge Coalition said.

The coalition has been working for nearly 14 years to save and restore the Katy Bridge. The goal is to open the bridge fully to the public so people riding or walking the Katy Trail can cross from Boonville into Howard County, or vice versa, without having to use the newer Boonslick Bridge, which is heavily traveled by cars - not such a romantic experience.

What makes the bridge unique is the middle section. It is a vertical-lift bridge, which allows the middle span to rise vertically while remaining parallel with the deck, allowing ships to pass underneath.

Built in 1931 as a railway, the Katy Bridge went out of use in the late 1980s, the Columbia Missourian reported. In 2004, Union Pacific Railroad decided to scrap the Katy Bridge and use the parts to build a new railway bridge across the Osage River. The bridge was spared when former Gov. Jay Nixon secured $31 million in federal stimulus money to fund the Osage bridge. As part of the agreement, Union Pacific will pay that money back over time.

Plans for renovation began in 2012 and ownership of the bridge was transferred to Boonville in 2013. Renovation of the bridge began in 2015.

The first phase of construction on the bridge is complete, but the coalition estimates it will cost roughly $4 million to $5 million to completely restore the bridge surface.

Sarah Gallagher, president of the Katy Bridge Coalition, said her goal is to raise $10 million to complete the bridge and clean, paint and maintain the bridge in the coming years.

Gallagher said the cost of the remaining three spans will be about the same as the first. The first span was so expensive because it had to meet Union Pacific specifications for safety, she said, as it crosses over a railroad track. The span was built off-site and lifted into place.

People and entities that make large donations will be offered naming rights, Gallagher said.

Delaney Murphy walked out onto the Katy Bridge with her mother on Tuesday evening and gazed over the railing to the river below. From Cheyenne, Wyoming, Murphy will attend Central Methodist University in the fall. She said she’d jogged over the Boonslick Bridge earlier before finding the Katy Bridge.

“It’s a little loud,” Murphy said of the Boonslick Bridge. “It’s just a sidewalk separated from the road.”

She said if the Katy Bridge were open, she would use it much more than the other bridge.

Harmon said completing the bridge is not just important for cyclists but for anyone wanting to access the river. Prior to the railroad being built, Boonville had limited access to the riverfront, and now the whole bank is private property.

Completing the bridge will allow residents of not just Boonville, but visitors from Columbia and beyond, to actually get down to the river on the Howard County side, he said.

“I guarantee you, when this is complete there will be a path down there whether it is built or people just make it,” Harmon said.

The long fight for the Katy Bridge has been a “small-town success story,” Gallagher said.

“There’s something special here,” she said.


Information from: Columbia Missourian, http://www.columbiamissourian.com

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